Researchers say they have taken a big step towards creating a bionic eye that could help blind people see better in the future.
Published in the journal Advanced Materials, scientists from the University of Minnesota printed an array of light receptors on a hemispherical glass dome. They used a custom-built 3D printer to print a base of silver particles, and then printed photodiodes on top, which convert light into electricity.
This gave them a prototype “eye” that was 25 percent efficient at turning light into electricity. In theory, such a device could later be used to convert the real world into signals that could one day be interpreted by a person’s brain.
“Bionic eyes are usually thought of as science fiction, but now we are closer than ever using a multimaterial 3D printer,” said co-author Dr Michael McAlpine in a statement.
“We have a long way to go to routinely print active electronics reliably, but our 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities,” he added. “Plus, we can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface, and they can’t.”
Footage of the eye being made. University of Minnesota
This same team has been successful in creating artificial organs before, including a “bionic ear” in 2013 and bionic skin last year to give robots the sense of touch.
Now they’re hoping to take their bionic eye to the next level, adding more light receptors to make it more efficient. They also want to use a softer material to make it possible to implant the device onto a real eye.
This is not the first bionic eye technology to be developed. Back in 2016, we reported on a device that could be surgically implanted on a person’s retina, with a pair of glasses using a camera to capture what is going on in the world around.
The latest effort here from the University of Minnesota offers a much quicker fabrication process however, with the printing of the device taking just an hour. In their paper, the scientists said their research validates “the potential of 3D printing to achieve high‐performance integrated active electronic materials and devices."